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The Importance of Back Translations

January 6, 2010

With the growth of the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and life sciences industries, multinational corporations require translation services and localization services of scientific data, surveys, clinical research, lab notes, ingredients, packaging, and other related material. These technical and medical translations are needed in order to provide life-changing products to patients and consumers around the world. Accurate and precise translations are incredibly crucial as the products produced by these industries directly affect the lives and well-beings of the worldwide human population. One inaccurate translation could be the meaning between life and death.

The most effective way to ensure precise document translation is through performing back translations. This process first includes the initial translation from English into the target language by one linguist, and editing of the translation by an equally qualified second linguist. The target translation is then translated back into English by a separate translator independent of the project and with no prior knowledge to make sure that the original English has been properly translated into the foreign language.

The back translation can never be exactly like the original English text. The back translation can only give a fair idea of the content of the text and make sure that the correct meaning is conveyed. For example, in a medical survey, expressions such as, “to feel blue, to feel sad, to feel down, to be in low spirits, etc.” have more or less the same meaning, and the back translator may only use one of these.

Back translations are an extremely useful tool in ensuring that the proper meaning of the text has been conveyed. It also adds an additional level of quality check to a document translation.